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Learn how you can find the best locksmith for the job.

A locksmith can cut new keys to replace misplaced ones. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A locksmith can cut new keys to replace misplaced ones.

Nearly everybody has had the unpleasant and helpless experience of being locked out of their car or house. It's even more frustrating when a friend or family member hasn't been given an extra set of keys. These situations often call for a locksmith.

Locksmiths are professional lock experts. But they aren't only for absent-minded people who lose their keys. Not only can locksmiths pick locks, but they can also change locks, change combinations for combination locks, drill open safes and create new keys.

Many people are justifiably concerned about having to call a locksmith. They have a reputation for being expensive, and giving a complete stranger access to one's locks is a somewhat uneasy proposition. This article reviews ways to find a trustworthy and reliable locksmith.

Choosing a Locksmith

Just as most people wouldn't give any random individual a set of keys to their house, it's important to choose a locksmith carefully. Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has provided some suggestions for "picking" a locksmith.

In their panic and frustration, many people would tend to check the phone book or the Internet for local locksmiths and simply pick the first one that seems promising. The FTC recommends against this. Indeed, the FTC has recently warned consumers of a scam involving "locksmithing" companies that list themselves in the phone book under up to 30 different company names. Not only do these so-called locksmiths charge outrageous fees for their work, but most of these companies' employees aren't even trained in the rudiments of locksmithing.

To avoid falling prey to an unscrupulous locksmith, experts suggest researching locksmiths before a moment of crisis. Asking friends, family member and neighbors for their recommendations is a good way to start. Asking local business owners which locksmith services they retain is another option. Once a few potential locksmiths have been identified, contact the Better Business Bureau or the state's consumer protection agency to see if the locksmiths have a clean track record.

However, researching locksmiths isn't that high on the list of most people's priorities. In an emergency situation, some may simply have to choose a locksmith blindly. Still, there are a few ways to ensure a locksmith is honest.

  • Make sure the locksmith is insured. Good locksmiths will carry insurance protecting the customer from any collateral damage as a result of lock work.
  • Get an estimate. Legitimate locksmiths will quote prices over the phone. Make sure to ask about extra fees such as those for off-hour calls or travel.
  • Check the vehicle. Most locksmiths have a clearly labeled vehicle identifying themselves as locksmiths. In some situations, the locksmith may simply work out of his or her personal car, but this is rare.
  • Ask for identification. Ask for a business card or invoice with the name of the locksmith company on it. Additionally, in a few states - Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas - locksmiths need to be licensed. Asking to see a license may seem paranoid, but since the locksmith is gaining access to the customer's home or car, this is a perfectly reasonable request.
  • Don't blindly agree to total lock replacement. All professional locksmiths should have the tools and skills to open a lock without drilling out the entire thing.
  • Get an itemized invoice. Knowing exactly what was done and the cost of the service is useful in case problems with the job arise.

Keep these tips in mind to help find a trustworthy locksmith. For more information, see the FTC Consumer Alert for choosing a locksmith.

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